To be different is to be unpopular. This is a lesson Jack has learned, as he sits alone in his tiny flat surrounded by abandoned pizza boxes and newspaper clippings of death. It makes no difference to him when idiots die in preventable accidents, no less tragic for it being their own fault, as it’s still him who feels he has to pick up the pieces.
He and his big sister survived their childhood, their drunken mother, but while Emma left the past behind and is now married with a young son, Jack’s mental health is unstable, haunted by the ghosts who won’t leave him alone, self-medicating with alcohol to give him oblivion rather than peace.
Understandably, Jack doesn’t encourage anyone to be close to him but when a war zone journalist, Mark Lewis, is murdered only a few step away from his front door it is Jack he turns to in order to pass a message to his grieving widow, television presenter Sarah, along with what little information he remembers about the attack.
The story of the ghost talker has been done before; Patricia Arquette and Jennifer Love Hewitt both made long careers out of it, but filmed in Glasgow this is a much greyer film, slow and brooding and while billed as though The Sixth Sense was a thriller rather than a mystery, that element very much takes a back seat to the dissection of Jack’s obsessions and self-destructive tendencies.
Played by former Misfits troublemaker Robert Sheehan, Jack is unpredictable, unwilling or unable to conform to the expectations of society or his family, angry all the time and confrontational, making Ghost’s Oda Mae Brown seem positively professional as he bounces between the rest of the cast, Snow White and the Huntsman’s Lily Cole as Emma, trying to understand but needing to protect her own family, Rome’s Alex Wyndham as her conventional husband Martin, Dracula’s Jack Fox as the desperate and demanding Mark and Salem’s Tamzin Merchant as Sarah, a public figure unprepared to be the face of a high profile murder investigation.
Directed by David Blair from a script by Andrew Kirk, it dances around the issue of whether Jack is gifted or disturbed; much of the information he offers could have been gleaned from sources other than supernatural (if he was truly in contact with Mark he would not have had to use the truly astonishing zoom on his camera to obtain the entry code to Sarah’s flat) yet he does possess knowledge of events before or at least as they occur.
What should be tantalisingly ambiguous, inviting the audience to consider and question the possibilities, instead comes across as contradictory and confusing, the film not real enough to be a drama, not fantastical enough to be supernatural and not gripping enough to be a thriller despite the performances, particularly that of Sheehan.
Overwrought and with an overly sentimental soundtrack, most importantly it fails in the central purpose of a film of telling a story; that the nature of Jack’s perceptions is left abstract is acceptable, but with the actual murder investigation overshadowed by Jack’s breakdown the result is infuriatingly similar to the first night of a two part miniseries, incomplete and unsatisfying regardless of how well produced it may be.
The Messenger is now on limited release and is available on DVD from 2nd November